Book Snobbery

Someone I know asked how I liked this YA book she knew I’d been reading.  When I shrugged and said that the plot had sounded really good, but the book hadn’t lived up to my hopes for it, she said:  “I bet you wish someone would re-write it for adults.”

At the time I let it go, but the more I think about it, the more this sort of “adult book snobbery” is starting to offend me.  I see examples of it all the time, people who come into the library and ask for a specific book, but when I lead them to the Young Adult section, say “Oh, I didn’t know it was a kid’s book” and leave without it, automatically assuming (like the woman in the first example) that books written with children in mind are somehow below par.   And sometimes they are, of course; there are sub-standard books written for children every day and an unfortunate number of them are published.  But there are also plenty of sub-standard books written for adults. A good, well-written story cannot be predicted by which side of the library it’s shelved on.

Thankfully, but gradually, this perception is beginning to change.  Look at the success of Harry Potter; whole families (including grandparents) all reading and loving the same series of books.  Lest the adults who shy away from “children’s fiction” be embarrassed to be caught reading them, the publishers even came out with an “adult version” of Harry Potter – the same book, only with a less childish cover!  And now there’s the success of The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman.  When he turned the manuscript in to his publishers, they didn’t know what to do with it; was it for children?  For adults?  Which side of the Great Divide was it to shelved on?  Finally, they came out with multiple versions of the exact same book, ones to be shelved with the adult books, and ones to be shelved with the children’s fiction.

One of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis states: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest,” and this is absolutely true.  No, I don’t wish that YA book I didn’t enjoy was ‘re-written for adults’.  I wish it had been written well, period.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written.  And if the book will be too difficult for grownups, then you write it for children.”

– Madeleine L’Engle

“Writing for children is bloody difficult; books for children are as complex as their adult counterparts, and they should therefore be accorded the same respect.”

– Mark Haddon

“You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults.  Only better.”

– Maxim Gorky

“There are good books which are only for adults, because their comprehension presupposes adult experiences, but there are no good books which are only for children.”

– W. H. Auden

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5 responses to “Book Snobbery

  1. Agreed. I have read an unfortunate number of YA books with sloppy writing and a good but over simplified plot. YA books should be written with the same effort as adult books. When I complain most of my co-workers point out that it is a children’s book, as if that’s some sort of excuse.

    It’s almost as annoying when you tell someone about a great book that happens to be YA, and get told “Oh I won’t read that. It’s a children’s book. It’s beneath me.”

    Good writing is good writing, no matter what age it targets.

  2. I agree with the Gorky quote. Excellent post.

  3. Thanks for the comments!

  4. What was the book by the way? Enquiring minds want to know! And I recently added the L’Engle quote to my goodreads page:)

    I recently ran into this at work. Billy was asking us what our favorite fiction and non-fiction books were, since he was looking for something to read this summer, and I said my favorite fiction book was Ella Enchanted (not that he would really choose to read it, since it’s pretty girly). It’s the book that I’ve read the most number of times, and it always effects me, but Alberta laughed and assumed I was joking. “But that’s a junior book.” To me, it doesn’t matter. Good writing and an effective plot are what matter. Of course she said “The Fountainhead” and “The Master and Margarita.” It was surprising and disappointing to get that reaction from another librarian.

    • It was “Gone” by Michael Grant.

      Alberta should know we aren’t joking, since she has access to our Goodreads reviews! (It seems like nearly every other book I read is a YA or Children’s book.)

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